Living Buddha, Living Christ

Scripture: Selected Readings
July 16, 2017
Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN

Last Sunday, we kicked off our summer series entitled “Holy Conversations:  Exploring Other Faiths to Build Community” with Meenakshi sharing about her Hindu faith in both the morning worship and evening gathering.  This morning we will look specifically at the connection between Jesus and Buddha.  Buddha grew up as a Hindu in the Himalayan foothills of India.  

Five hundred years and three thousand miles separate Siddhartha Gautama (Si-dar-tha Gu-ta-ma), called the Buddha from Jesus of Nazareth, called the Christ.  Yet, their words, their teachings, their life stories bear an eerie similarity.

Buddha was born of a virgin.  He was visited by wise men who recognized the divinity of the child.  He was of royal descent and his birth was announced by a star.  Just like Jesus.  Both Jesus and Buddha were presented in the temple as infants.  

Both fasted in the wilderness and were tempted.  Both called their disciples with the command, “Follow me”.  Both performed miracles, healed the sick, and walked on water.

Both were about 30 years of age when they began their ministry.  Both had a “band of disciples” who accompanied them.  Both traveled from place to place and “preached to large multitudes”. Buddha preached on the “Holy Hill”.  Jesus delivered his sermon on the mount.  The parable of the prodigal son is found in both Buddhist and Christian scriptures.  Both use the image of the mustard seed.  Both heal a man born blind.  Both were transfigured on a mountain.  

Buddha was considered the “good shepherd”, “the carpenter”, the “infinite and everlasting.”  Buddha was called the “savior of the world”, “light of the world,” “eternal one” – just as Jesus was.  Buddha is to return to earth again to restore the world – just as Jesus is said to do that same.

And the teachings are quite identical:

Jesus:  “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:31).

Buddha:  “Consider others as yourself” (Dhammapada 10:1)

Jesus:  “If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also.”  (Luke 6:29)

Buddha:  “If anyone should give you a blow with his hand, you should abandon any desires and utter no evil words” (Majjhima Nikaya 21:6).

Jesus:  “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”  (Luke 6:27-28).

Buddha:  Hatred does not ever cease in this world by hating, but by love.  Overcome anger by love, overcome evil by good…Overcome the miser by giving, overcome the liar by truth.” (Dhammapada 1.5 & 17.3).

Jesus:  “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone.” (John 8:4-7)

Buddha:  “Do not look at the faults of others, or what others have done or not done; observe what you yourself have done and have not done.” (Dhammapada 4:7).

Jesus:  “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20)

Buddha:  “Let us live most happily, possessing mothering” (Dhammapada 15:4).

Jesus:  “Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:26).

Buddha:  “Those who have sufficient faith in me, sufficient love for me, are all headed for heaven or beyond” (Majjhima Nikaya 22:47). (Examples from article “Jesus Christ as the Reincarnation of Buddha”,

What accounts for the similar teachers?  Some believe that during those years between 12 and 30 years of age (known as the “lost years of Jesus’ life”), that Jesus traveled to India and learned about Buddhism and incorporated Buddhism into his own teachings.  Others say that Jesus is the reincarnation of Buddha – coming back to earth 500 years after the first Buddha lived.  And still others say that they both came to a place of enlightenment and therefore, reached similar conclusions about the way of life.

In hearing about the similarities between Jesus and Buddha, I hope that it does not diminish your faith, but rather broaden it.  Some may argue that if the Jesus story is not original, then it must not be important.  Conversely, I find comfort in this shared way of love and compassion found in both Jesus and Buddha.  Followers of Jesus and followers of Buddha, which together make up 40% of the world’s population, can speak a common language to one another.  Listen to this story of a Buddhist monk who brought new life to a Christian monastery.

There was a Christian monastery in which all the monks were aging and dying.  The buildings were run down.  The fields were mostly bare.  No villagers came to worship at the chapel.  All seemed destined to end within the next few years.  The doors would certainly be closing soon.

One day, the abbott was visited by a dear friend, a Buddhist monk.   The Buddhist monk said to his friend the abbott, “During the night I had a dream and I dreamt of your monastery and tthe remaining monks.  I heard a voice say to me, ‘The Christ is One of You.’ ”   He looked at his aging friend and said, “It is clear to me, the Christ is One of You.”  

With that he left.  The abbott thought, which one of us is the Christ?  Brother Martin is always sleeping through morning prayers.  Certainly it is not Martin.  Brother Simeon is terrible cook and makes us ill with his concoctions.  Certainly it is not Simeon.   Brother David is ill-tempered and unfriendly.  Certainly it is not David.  And I, certainly, I am not the Christ.    

That day at lunch, the abbott shared his Buddhist friend’s dream with the others, concluding, “The Christ is one of us.’’ They shared his judgments of the other monks.  How could it possibly be one of us, they wondered in bewilderment?  But, just in case, they began to treat one another like each of the others was the Christ.  With joy they greeted one another.  With love they embraced one another.  With grace they forgave one another.  With delight, they saw the fullness of God in one another.   

Soon, they found energy for serving.  Soon, they discovered their joyful voices of singing.  Soon, their fields began to yield fruitful harvests.  Little by little, their monastery came back to life.  People from across the countryside came to worship.  The word spread and people knew that “one of the brothers was the Christ!”  The question always remained, “Which brother is it?”  When all of the brothers had departed this life, it was said that the spirit of the Living Christ remained in the monastery.   It was no longer a dream.  The Christ was alive and dwelling within his people (story told in sermon “Jesus and Buddha” by Rev. Timothy C. Ahrens).

Living Buddha. Living Christ.  As I look out across this sanctuary today, I have had a dream as well.  The Christ is one of you!  

May we live as if the Christ spirit, the Buddha spirit is reincarnated in every one of us!